Kinetic Public Art:  From 20th Century Abstract Forms to 21st Century Site-Specific Works

Public Art in Public Places


Mid-20th Century Abstract Works: George Rickey and Bruce Stillman
Prominent among 20th Century kinetic wind sculptors, George Rickey brought aircraft engineering and technology to his abstract style and use of lightweight components. Bruce Stillman's work two decades later follows the abstract tradition yet illustrates a different artistic approach with more substantial kinetic components.  
"Two Open Rectangles Eccentric Variation VII - Triangular Section"

George Rickey's sculptures were engineered to withstand strong winds while remaining responsive to light breezes.

"Four Lines Oblique Gyratory - Square IV" 

Rickey designed the articulation of several simple components, such as the thin arms of this sculpture, to produce combinations of complex movements.

"Perpetual Motion"

Stillman's kinetic design uses heavier and counter-balanced components suitable for desert high winds. This public artwork is in Palm Desert, California.

Abstract and Site-Specific Kinetic Sculpture: Early 21st Century
The following 21st Century kinetic sculptures are presented chronologically to illustrate both the continuance of the mid-20th Century abstract art tradition and the new 21st Century site-specific public art tradition. Where abstract kinetic designs are entirely independent of their site's surrounding environment, site-specific designs respond to, reflect, and are embedded in the physical and cultural context.

Adjacent to the Oxnard Airport in California, this sculpture's kinetic design illustrates its aviation theme by simulating aircraft aileron movement.

"Making Lemonade"

The whimsical design and citrus theme of this kinetic work by Nancy Mooslin complements the surrounding neighborhood park and the Ventura, California community's citrus heritage.

"Escena Wind Wave"

This large abstract work serves as an iconic entry sculpture for the Escena neighborhood in Palm Springs, California.


Unlike kinetic wind sculptures, Narduli's building-mounted kinetic video sculpture exhibits more than 40 hours of looped digital video animations, "generative visualization" and live feeds.

"Intermittent Constancy"

These quickly rotating panels produce a glittering effect from both daytime sunlight and the evening street lights in downtown Los Angeles, California.


Ned Kahn's unusual site-specific design includes both an architectural tower and undulating "Kaynemaile" mesh strips to produce the billowy effect of "enagua" ["in water"] fabric.


Hollis and Murch's site-specific project included both the kinetic sculpture (suggestive of "grasshopper" oil pump motion) and public space design.

CONCLUSION:  Kinetic Abstract Forms to Site-Specific Works
Civic engagement in public art selection, creation and site selection processes is now commonplace across the United States and the world, and community attitudes after public art is installed can also determine an artwork's ultimate fate.  Thus the 21st Century popularity of site-specific public artworks can be no surprise, as communities view public art as an opportunity to make a statement about their history, culture, and even civic-mindedness.  There is nevertheless artistic merit in the contemplative and symbolic value of abstract designs, as we have seen with the early kinetic tradition in Southern California, that may be sensitively incorporated into the 21st Century's site-specific approaches. 
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